The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has announced a landmark reform in its anti-doping policy, by formally removing cannabis and its naturally occurring cannabinoid constituents from its list of banned substances for professional fighters. This move follows a policy change implemented by UFC in 2021, which already provided significant protection to athletes from penalties for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
UFC Leads the Way for Health and Safety in Combat Sports
UFC is the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, with more than 600 athletes under contract and events held across the globe. UFC has been operating an independently administered anti-doping program since 2015, in partnership with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). UFC’s goal for the anti-doping policy is to be the best, most effective, and most progressive anti-doping program in all of professional sports.
UFC Chief Business Officer Hunter Campbell said in a press release on Thursday that “UFC is proud of the advancements we have made with our anti-doping program over the past eight years, and we will continue to maintain an independently administered drug-testing program that ensures all UFC athletes are competing under fair and equal circumstances. With this new iteration of the program, UFC has once again raised the bar for health and safety in combat sports.”
UFC Recognizes the Complexities and Benefits of Cannabis Use
UFC’s decision to remove cannabis from its prohibited list is based on scientific evidence and feedback from athletes and third parties. UFC Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky explained that “while we want to continue to prevent athletes from competing under the influence of marijuana, and we have learned that urinary levels of carboxy-THC are highly variable after out-of-competition use and have poor scientific correlation to in-competition impairment. THC is fat soluble, meaning that once ingested, it is stored in fatty tissues and organs in the body and can be released back into the circulation, and consequently carboxy-THC appears in the urine, sometimes long after ingestion. It is therefore not an ideal marker in athletes to indicate in-competition impairment.”
Novitzky added that “the bottom line is that in regard to marijuana, we care about what an athlete consumed the day of a fight, not days or weeks before a fight, which has often been the case in our historic positive THC cases. UFC athletes will still be subject to marijuana rules under various athletic commission regulations, but we hope this is a start to a broader discussion and changes on this issue with that group.”
UFC also removed all other “phyto” cannabinoids that are present in the cannabis plant, from the UFC prohibited list. These cannabinoids are often found in various CBD products used widely by UFC athletes, and no evidence exists that they would provide any significant performance advantage, the laboratories do not test for these compounds, nor have any health and safety consequences for competing UFC athletes.
UFC’s Reform is a Milestone for the Cannabis Industry and Advocacy
UFC’s announcement is a major shift in the professional sports industry, which has traditionally been conservative and restrictive when it comes to cannabis use by athletes. UFC is the first major sports organization to formally remove cannabis from its banned substances list, and it is modeling its list of prohibited drugs after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which has controversially maintained cannabis as a banned substance.
UFC’s reform is also a milestone for the cannabis industry and advocacy, which have been pushing for the legalization and regulation of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. Cannabis is currently legal in some form in 36 states and four territories in the U.S., as well as in Canada and several other countries. Cannabis has been shown to have various therapeutic benefits, such as pain relief, anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-seizure, and neuroprotective effects. Cannabis is also widely used by many people for recreational and wellness purposes, such as relaxation, creativity, and socialization.
UFC’s decision to remove cannabis from its prohibited list is a recognition of the complexities and benefits of cannabis use, and a sign of the changing attitudes and policies towards cannabis in the society. UFC’s reform is likely to have a positive impact on the health and performance of its athletes, as well as on the public perception and acceptance of cannabis.